Miles Davis on Philly Joe Jones

SKF NOTE: Nat Hentoff‘s “Jazz Is” was a Christmas present to me from my sister, Maribeth, in 1978. Her inscription says, “Hope you don’t already have this. I can’t wait ’til you’re on the pages of a book like this. Love, Maribeth.”

Can we ever have too many family members who believe in our dreams? I don’t think so.

Each time I pull one of my old music books from my book case, and flip through the pages, passages I underlined when first reading the books, appear as little jewels of wisdom. Keepers. Ideas that, at the time, made sense. I underlined them to make it easy to find the passages again.

Over the years I have not come across one of my underlined passages that now seems dated, irrelevant.

Mr. Hentoff’s recollection of Miles and Philly Joe Jones is a good example.


Miles Davis telling me some years ago that he was turning down an engagement in a jazz club in Toronto. I asked him why. “Because that m*** who owns it told me to fire Philly Joe because he’s too loud! Nobody can tell me what to do with my music.”

Philly Joe Jones, Miles’s drummer at the time, was a brilliant, cracklingly aggressive, polyrhythmically swinging mesmerist who often did indeed play loud. “Shee-it,” said Miles, “I wouldn’t care if he came up on the bandstand in his B.V.D’s and with one arm, and shouting his head off, just so long as he was there.

“He’s got the fire I want. There’s nothing more terrible than playing with a dull rhythm section. Jazz has got to have that thing. You have to be born with it. You can’t learn it, you can’t buy it. You have it or you don’t. And no critic can put it into any words. It speaks in the music. It speaks for itself.”

Source: “Jazz Is,” by Nat Hentoff (Avon Books, 1978)

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